Fact or Fiction: On The Stone Diaries, The Body Papers & Investigating a Life

The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields and The Body Papers, by Grace Talusan

I just Googled “fiction versus memoir,” even though I know the difference – and I suspect that you do too. My search results yielded the following top result: “Memoir or Novel? How to Decide.” It’s from a random literary agency that hosts an accompanying blog full of tips for would-be authors, and this was one of its posts. I admit to being a little baffled because I always assume that writers sort of know what genre they want to tackle. Do you want to make up a story or not? Ok, ok, I’ll concede that maybe at the beginning of one’s writing days, a little waffling may present itself. Writer: “I have a message I want to convey, but I’m not sure how.” But otherwise, “fake news” notwithstanding, we have FACT and we have FICTION. They’re different, right?

This summer the New York Times Book Review published a special section entitled “The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” When you think about it, 50 years is a long time. (I can get away with saying that because I myself am over 75% of the way to 50.) In fact, I think “50 years” is a particularly long time in memoir-speak because except for the very few, most of the selections on this list were unfamiliar to me or caused me to go, “Oh riiiiiiiight. Forgot about that one.” The majority of memoirs seem to be the flashes-in-the-pan of the literary world.

The “surprise emoji” kind of encapsulates how a lot of people felt upon reading Westover’s book…

Let’s take one of 2018 and 2019’s favorite memoirs. Raise your hand if you have read Educated. (Do you see what I did there? Education…school…raising hands…) In the event that you don’t know, Educated is the story of a woman named Tara Westover who extricated herself from a hyper-religious and hyper-survivalist childhood in Idaho, taught herself enough info to do well on the ACT, gained admission to Brigham Young University, and then earned a Masters and doctorate at Cambridge. The epitome of an against-all-odds story, Westover’s memoir chronicles a stratospheric ejection from her unorthodox childhood from every imaginable angle: educational philosophy (she entered BYU not knowing what the Holocaust was), religious philosophy (a hybrid of essential-oil-heavy “naturalism” and Mormonism), and family-relationship philosophy (Westover eventually realizes that “hey, this isn’t normal”). It’s made-for-television (except it’s real), and we read this type of thing slack-jawed. For those who have grown up in an environment like Westover’s – rare, but plausible – the book may provide a blueprint of hope. For those of us who did not grow up like that, it is a fascinating view into someone’s life as well as a reminder to “appreciate all that we have.” I suspect people will remember Westover’s book for a long time – how can one forget? Continue reading “Fact or Fiction: On The Stone Diaries, The Body Papers & Investigating a Life”

Come As You Are: On Geek Love, Destroy All Monsters & Nirvana

geek love destroy
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn and Destroy All Monsters by Jeff Jackson

Do adults ever genuinely overcome the ultimate paradox of teenager-hood: Wanting to belong but simultaneously wanting to stand out? If you’ve ever dined out with a bunch of women (in particular), you know what I mean: People rushing to find the best spot at the table (definitely not the end, and without a doubt as close as possible to whoever the “leader” is), then trying to wrangle the conversation their way as they luxuriate in their “uniqueness.” Does it sound like I’m bitter? No, not really. Despite the fact that I am human, and therefore have to on occasion fight the lonely experience of feeling left out, I mostly don’t let people’s need to “push to the front” color my days. Here’s why: I have met the most interesting people by letting others do their thing and hanging out with the “remnants.” It also means that ever since I was a young girl, I’ve been a pretty keen observer and can suss out a social situation and get a read on the people present pretty well. As a ‘non-shy introvert’ (you see, I’m actually a pretty great conversationalist and have a knack for including others…guess I can brag with the rest of them), I can see the inconsistencies in the way people act and the lengths that many will go to be the center of attention. I see it in local interactions, in politics, and certainly in social media. FYI: The more interesting people are often the ones hanging back because they know they can’t win at this game so don’t exert as much energy trying.

stuck in the middle
Stuck in the Middle With You… (For the record, this is a free-to-use stock photo, and I’m sure these women are perfectly nice!)

 

Continue reading “Come As You Are: On Geek Love, Destroy All Monsters & Nirvana”

Grit or Glamour? Your (Casting) Call: On Milkman and La La Land

milkman
Milkman, by Anna Burns

The Oscars just passed. I didn’t watch, although I love the movies. That being said, I’m usually behind in my screenings, so let’s tie this in to the Oscars two years ago. Bright side: I’m talking about an extremely current book. You win some, you lose some.

I love the movie La La Land, and I will make no apologies for that. I know there was a bit of a fuss during 2017’s Oscars season (and not just because Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty awkwardly announced – incorrectly – that it had won Best Picture) because there were so many more “meaningful” pictures that required attention. I’m a big fan of “meaningful movies,” so I understand the impetus toward criticism of this seemingly fluffy film. But I feel like there was a big component of La La Land that people weren’t acknowledging: The entire thing was cleverly framed as a Hollywood fantasy however you chose to interpret the story. (Hello, people are dancing on air in the Griffith Observatory.) Meanwhile, the other “best picture” contenders were powerful and gritty views of real-life issues. Continue reading “Grit or Glamour? Your (Casting) Call: On Milkman and La La Land”